By: Dorothy Ho
(Photo District News) The Spokesman-Review photographer Brian Plonka has won the newspaper photographer of the year award from the 59th Annual Pictures of the Year International. James Nachtwey of VII won for magazine photographer of the year, his seventh time winning the honor.
The contest is sponsored by the Missouri School of Journalism, the Newseum, National Geographic Photographic and Digital Imaging Lab, MSNBC.com, and Fuji Photo Film.
Plonka, a 20-year veteran of newspapers who has been with the Spokesman-Review for three years, credits his newspaper for allowing him to try out new ideas and work on projects. Plonka’s portfolio included a story on asbestos poisoning and “The Ten Commandments,” where he illustrated each commandment with his documentary images. “It doesn’t really fly at a lot of newspapers I worked for, but here, they embrace different ideas and different thinking,” he said.
“I just want to keep pushing myself to keep changing and failing. Aside from some pretty important work done out there, a lot of it is formulated and very predictable. Newspaper photographers have to assess their work and try to challenge themselves to put a new vision in newspapers.”
David Rees, director of Pictures of the Year International, says Plonka’s portfolio was unusual for a newspaper photographer. “A lot of work was very conceptual,” Rees said. “The judges were impressed with his picture-making ability and the thought that goes into his work.” On the magazine winner, Nachtwey, Rees added: “He’s truly a chronicler of our time, in terms of news of the world. He has a powerful story-telling ability.”
Nachtwey’s award this year makes him one of the most prolific winners in this contest and he is the only photographer to be recognized as the Magazine Photographer of the Year seven times.
Other big winners included Gail Fisher of the Los Angeles Times, who won the Community Awareness Award for “Crashing into Adulthood,” a story on foster-care youths growing into adulthood; Jan Grarup of Rapho, who picked up the World Understanding Award for his story on “The Boys From Ramallah” for Stern magazine; The Hartford (Conn.) Courant staff for editing; and Zed Nelson, who won Best Photography Book for Gun Nation.
The contest’s split from the National Press Photographers Association has not affected the quality of the images, Rees said, but entries are down 20% this year. The contest received 24,000 images from 1,500 photographers. See the complete list of 252 awards at www.poy.org.